Life in Ancient Egypt revolved around religion. The pharaohs traced their ancestry back to the gods of the Egyptian pantheon. Different pharaohs allied themselves to different cults, and the elaborate temples they built cemented their own political status. With intricately painted walls, vast colonnaded courts and columned hypostyle halls, the temples of Ancient Egypt are among its greatest cultural triumphs.
The Temples of Abu Simbel (Nubia)
Of all the pharaohs, Ramses II was the most prolific builder of monuments and temples. Two of his greatest temples, the Great Temple of Abu Simbel and its smaller cousin, the Temple of Hathor are at Abu Simbel. Both temples originally sat some sixty metres below where you find them today. They were part of a massive UNESCO operation to save Egypt's Great Temples from Lake Nasser's rising waters. Embedded into the mountain itself, the temples had to be cut free from the rock and painstakingly dismantled and rebuilt.
The Temple of Queen Hatshepsut (Thebes)
At the base of a lofty limestone mountain in the desert at Thebes nestles Queen Hatshepsut's astonishing terraced temple. Hatshepsut was Egypt's greatest female Pharaoh. She fought off male pretenders to her throne for over 20 prosperous and peaceful years.
Partly embedded into the mountain itself, the temple is almost forty metres wide. Its honeycomb colonnades pick up the natural lines and recesses of its mountainous backdrop. Hatshepsut's temple is essentially an extension of Mentuhotep II's temple, though several times its size. The two blend in so well together, they are indistinguishable from a distance.
The Temple of Luxor
Though Ramses II's triumphant twin statues stand sentry at its entrance, it was Amenhotep III who built the bewildering Temple of Luxor.
Over the years, several of Egypt's legendary rulers added to the glory of the Temple of Luxor, from Tutankhamun to Alexander the Great.
The Temple of Karnak
The most important place of worship in all Egypt during Theban power. It was built, dismantled, restored, enlarged and decorated by several pharaohs. It's a complex of sanctuaries, obelisks and pylons, dedicated to the glory of the pharaohs. It's a gigantic site : 1.5km by 800m. Impossible to describe, this immense monument has to be seen, to be believed.
From the entrance to the Amun Temple Enclosure you pass down the processional avenue of ram-headed sphinxes that originally flanked a canal connecting the temple to the Nile.
The Temple of Horus (Edfu)
A very well preserved Egyptian temple, much newer than other temples. Its state of preservation helps to fill some historical gaps. The sanctuary of Horus contains the granite shrine that once housed the gold cult statue of Horus.
The Temple of Amada (Nubia)
Saved from the waters of Lake Nasser and moved to higher, drier land, the Temple of Amada boasts the most wonderfully preserved wall reliefs of the Nubian style. Dedicated to the gods of the New Kingdom, Amun-Ra and Ra-Hor-Akhty, it was a collaborative effort between Tuthmosis III and his son Amonhotep II. Ramses II also restored much of the temple that had suffered under Akhenaten's rule.
Other Pharaonic Temples
The Temple of Dakka (Nubia)
It takes fifteen minutes to walk through the desert to these sites from Wadi es-Sebua. The Temple of Dakka originally stood forty kilometres further north. Dedicated to Thot, god of wisdom, its construction lasted from the reign of the Nubian pharaoh, Arkamani, in the third century BC to that of Emperor Augustus. It is worth visiting in particular for its twelve-metre high pylon which offers a striking view over the lake. Maharraqa, the smallest of the three temples, is interesting for its spiral staircase, a rare feature in ancient Egypt.
The Temple of Isis (Aswan)
Small in scale, the temple was designed as an ode to Isis and the Nile, creator of all things. Legend relates that Isis had chosen to live on the island to grieve for Osiris, her brother and husband, murdered by Seth, and that it was on Philae that she found the heart of Osiris. Construction of the temple and its surrounding buildings dates back to the first centuries AD. The worship of Isis continued here until the closure of the temple in 537 and its transformation into a church.
The Temple of Hathor (Dendera)
The site of the Dendera temple may have been occupied since very ancient times but the temple itself dates only from the first century AD. Construction was started in the reign of Ptolemy IX and was completed by the Roman emperors. The temple was dedicated to Hathor, goddess of celebration, music and love, and was absorbed into the cult of Aphrodite by the Greeks.